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Rub A Dub Style – Chapter 1 (Part 2) « DanceCrasher

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Rub A Dub Style – Chapter 1 (Part 2)

Dennis Alcapone

Although U Roy was the main star of the day with his Treasure Isle hits, one of the most important but overlooked toasting masters was Dennis Alcapone whose Studio One LP, Forever Version, remains a true classic of early deejay recording.

Dennis’s influence was just as pervasive as U Roy’s, especially inside the dancehall. A lot of young deejays were coming into the session inspired by Alcapone’s style. “All of those guys used to listen to me. Big Youth used to come to my dance and listen to me. Jah Stitch used to follow me all around the country when I was playing. Trinity used to live close by me, where I used to play. I remember him as a little boy. I used to call him Glen. Dillinger was my apprentice.” In fact, Dillinger originally called himself Young Alcapone. Deejay Jah Stitch recalls, “I used to go around [to see] Dennis Alcapone, El Paso [sound]. I really get my deejaying skill from Alcapone.” Stitch claimed, further, that when Alcapone heard him deejay, he would tell Stitch that he still heard a big piece of himself in the younger man.

[audio:http://www.dancecrasher.co.uk/features/rubadubstyle/1/mosquitoone.mp3]
Dennis Alcapone – Mosquito One

Dennis started with El Paso sound in 1969. Although he was a follower of U Roy, his style was completely his own. Where U Roy had more melody in his voice, Alcapone’s words were more spoken, or chanted. Where U Roy slurred common words into entirely new permutations, Dennis spoke clearly, his lines punctuated by his piercing, “YEH YEH YAAAAA!” His sound, El Paso, became an institution in Jamaica. In fact, El Paso became so identified with Dennis that people started calling him ‘El Paso’. “It was just me. I was the whole thing. I used to deejay, I used to select, I used to take the sound to the dance, string it up, put the steel horn in the tree, I used to do everything. So, they couldn’t match that! I went and get the dubplates, myself. I bought all the records for the sound. I take the dates [bookings] as well. I did everything. The guys nowadays think they can just drive up when the dance is going on, take up the mic. They don’t know lucky they are.”

Making records with deejays had caught on by this tine and Dennis took full advantage, cutting many timeless sides including the heavy ‘Spanish Omega’ (over Ken Booth’s ‘Old Fashion Way’ for Keith Hudson), ‘Mosquito One’ (over Nora Dean’s ‘Barbwire’, Duke Reid), and ‘Guns Don’t Bark’ (Bunny Lee). These lyrics were so popular and so well known that they entered the vocabulary of every deejay in Jamaica.

[audio:http://www.dancecrasher.co.uk/features/rubadubstyle/1/spanishamiga.mp3]
Dennis Alcapone – Spanish Omega

By 1974, after several prolonged stays in the UK, Dennis got married and settled there permanently. He resides there today, still working in the business. When Alcapone left Jamaica, that was the end of El Paso. “It was going on after I left, because you had quite a few people [deejays] that went on El Paso since I left. It wasn’t about the equipment; it wasn’t a big sound. But El Paso was me. There was no El Paso without Dennis Alcapone. Dennis Alcapone was El Paso.”

By the mid ‘70s, a new type of toaster was taking over, a group of men who had learned from U Roy and Dennis- deejays like Big Youth, Jah Stitch, Dillinger, Big Joe, Jah Woosh, Prince Jazzbo, Shorty the President, Jah Lloyd, Dr Alimantado, Jah Lion and assorted others. Many of the fresh crop were toasting in a new way, with a new range of subject matter – roots and Rastafari.

Second Generation of Deejays

By the early ‘70s, Jamaicans were clearly in love with toasting. Deejays had broken through the invisible barrier between the dancehall and commercial worlds. Even so, there remained certain islands of hostility towards the mic chanters both in and out of the music business. Competition lead to a certain resentment between the singers and the talkers. As U Brown recalls, “Back in those days, a lot of singers never liked when deejays would deejay on their rhythm tracks. Singers were the ones that always made the original rhythm. They are the ones that always go with the musicians and make the tracks. And then the producers might call the deejay to say something on the track. So, when the deejays start to become popular, a lot of singers never liked it.” But producers couldn’t ignore sales, and deejay records were hits.

People still loved U Roy as the originator, the ‘godfather’, but the style was changing and now people were looking for more content in the ‘lyrics basket’. The new deejays complied. By the mid ‘70s, deejays were not only talking in complete sentences, they were delivering a message. The roots era had begun and music was increasingly being used to impart a social, political and spiritual agenda.

The biggest changes to in the art of toasting in the ‘70s, came from the large man with the imposing appearance, Big Youth. Flashing his red, green and gold be-jeweled teeth and smiling his broad grin, Big Youth made a big impression wherever he travelled. With his head full of thick dreadlocks, at a time when performers were almost universally ‘baldheaded’, Big Youth launched a Rasta revolution in the dancehall.

Bunny Lee remembers, “Big Youth come in the midst of I Roy and U Roy and turn the whole thing upside down. Dreadlocks Dread*, man, that album was a phenomenon! Change the whole deejay concept and everything. Cause Big Youth come in a different style – with dreadlocks. He had an LP come out same time in England, and it sell like a 45. Bob [Marley] was just starting with Chris Blackwell. Bob, them, did trim off them hair. When Big Youth [became a] dread now, Chris Blackwell see the potential of it and make Bob them dread back.”

* 1975, Klik records, produced by Tony Robinson. The album contains all Rastafarian inspired lyrics like House Of Dread Locks, Natty Dread She Want, Some Like It Dread and Marcus Garvey Dread

As a new beat came in, with a different pace and a different atmosphere, the newer deejays developed a fresh approach that complimented the current sound. “Big Youth came in a different era really”, Dennis Alcapone remembers. “People like me and U Roy, we were working on the Rock Steady rhythms that was laid down from in the ‘60s. Big Youth started working on the new drum and bass [style]. That’s when the music was changing. The rhythm change. The style change in Jamaica. And the rhythm keep changing. You have so much different deejays that come along and take over from another deejay cause the rhythm the deejay is working on change on him, and he cannot handle the other one as a new deejay [could] that come when that style change. There’s always changes.”

Big Youth

At first, Big Youth sounded a lot like both Dennis Alcapone and U Roy. He yelled, he shrieked, he hollered. Like Alcapone, he incorporated nursery rhymes into his lyrics. But, as Big Youth matured, the influences he drew on broadened. For example, Big Youth began to borrow bits and pieces from American rap, even extending to rap’s predecessors, the Harlem masters – The Last Poets*

* This group of literary rebels, formed in 1968, predated and influenced the rappers and dub poets who followed. Their records included titles like Niggers are Scared of Revolution, This is Madness, and When the Revolution Comes. Referred to, in hindsight, as the Godfathers of Hip-Hop, the Last Poets worked to define and articulate a black identity within the North American environment, and to communicate these ideas to urban African Americans.

[audio:http://www.dancecrasher.co.uk/features/rubadubstyle/1/moviestar.mp3]
Big Youth – Movie Man

Big Youth was working as a mechanic by day and toasting with Tippertone sound system by night. His first record, the 1972 ‘Movie Man’, was not recorded for any of the top producers of the day, but as a joint effort between him and his good friend, signer Gregory Isaacs. As a first effort, it got a positive reception, but didn’t go far enough. The record that really made him a household name was Keith Hudson’s production, ‘S 90 Skank’, a lyric about the current motorcycle craze. A year later, Youth worked with Gussie Clarke who produced his second big hit, the innovative ‘Screaming Target’, followed by an LP of the same name.

[audio:http://www.dancecrasher.co.uk/features/rubadubstyle/1/screamingtarget.mp3]
Big Youth – Screaming Target

Gussie recalls, “It was even unique how we put it all together. It’s kinda like Screaming Target just flow into the box. Overnight we just recorded the whole album. Cause interacting with so many producers, I could get all the rhythm tracks I needed. So, we just recorded the whole thing in one night in Dynamics [studio], edited up everything and an album was done overnight * It was well received. It was phenomenal.”

* The backing tracks came from all over. “Some were mine and some were tracks from other
producers I was able to get them because it was just a business. We wanted to do the project, we
offered them a price. In those days it was called, ‘I bought a cut off the rhythm’.”

With the impetus of the two hits propelling him forwards, by 1973, Big Youth was able to set out independently with his own label, Negusa Negast, and begin producing himself while he continued to have hit after hit with other producers.

The concepts of black consciousness and African unity were just starting to appear in reggae, reflecting the rise of the Black Power movement in North America and elsewhere. Big Youth began to use his performances and his records to talk about the social and economic conditions for black people in Jamaica and around the world. Because of his borrowing from such diverse sources, Big Youth developed a loyal following among American intellectuals who considered him to be the “thinking man’s deejay”. In the music press, articles appeared analyzing his lyrics in an often heavy-handed, academic manner (that, up to that point, had not been experienced within Jamaican music).

But, while others were picking his lyrics apart, he was throwing them together, with enviable joy and enthusiasm. An incredibly versatile deejay, Big Youth broke all the unwritten musical rules. Because he had so many lyrics, he frequently recorded several songs over one rhythm, each new recording taking a different theme and a different style. He would double track his own voice. He would even sing. With absolutely no modesty or reserve, Big Youth would belt out soul and reggae songs using current rhythms as backing tracks.

[audio:http://www.dancecrasher.co.uk/features/rubadubstyle/1/hittheroadjack.mp3]
Big Youth – Hit The Road Jack
[audio:http://www.dancecrasher.co.uk/features/rubadubstyle/1/africandaughter.mp3]
Big Youth – African Daughter

Because his lyrics were complex and often beautiful, and his messages powerful and universal, Big Youth was one of the first deejays to appeal to a worldwide audience. His records were far more than some scat singing and some jive catchphrases (although he could settle into a rhythm with the best). Each 45 was as complete as any song written and recorded by a singer. Big Youth attacked issues in his words, like the poverty of shantytown Riverton City, or Kingston’s political violence. Youth was truly a masterful song writer.

In writing such complete lyrics over the versions, he raised the standard for deejaying and created a role for deejays as reformers, in delivering their messages of social injustice. After Big Yoouth exploded on the scene, DJs could no longer be classified as the “second-class musical citizens” of Jamaican entertainment. They were making the hits and defining the trends. The studio bosses began to take notice.

Dillinger

In the mid ‘70s, Channel One Studio did very well with a young and upcoming deejay with a piercing wit and an original style. When Dillinger came along, U Roy and I Roy were already well established and at the top of their field. But Dillinger didn’t pick either one as his teacher. Instead, he studied under Dennis Alcapone and came to sound a lot like him- at least in the beginning.

Born in 1953, Lester Bullocks began hanging around the dancehall until, as a teenager, he got a break and started performing with El Brasso sound from McKoy Lane. From there, he joined Prince Jackie Hifi from Hagley Park Road* in 1971 and also deejayed with Smith the Weapon, all before joining Dennis Alcapone on his El Paso hifi.

* In ‘Platt Skank’ (Phil Pratt, 197? LABEL) , he refers to the sound, “Right now, I belong to Prince Jackie Hifi, so you got to take care of I, and you can make it if you try.”

The youth hung around El Paso sound doing anything that needed to be done. “At times I had to lift the box because the boxman is not there and I just want to hear the sound play. It was the love of the music and [we wanted] the music start play. So, we do anything to let the sound play quick as possible.”

Alcapone took the young deejay under his wing and began giving Dillinger a chance to be heard. “I used to follow that sound. So, any time he take a break, went to smoke or get a drink, I would take the mic.” Alcapone didn’t offer direct instruction, and Dillinger, a natural at the microphone, didn’t seem to need any. “But he was the first guy who put a mic in my hand. He gave me the opportunity to build up my own craft, to expose myself.”

[audio:http://www.dancecrasher.co.uk/features/rubadubstyle/1/plattskank.mp3]
Dillinger – Platt Skank

On some of his early recordings, Dillinger sounds uncannily like his elder. But the young deejay didn’t waste time in finding his own unique style. “When I come in the business, they [deejays] were talking like ‘ Yea!’ ‘Wow!’, ‘Do it to me!’ , ‘hic, hic’, ‘Tcchka, tchka”, ‘Good gosh!’ Cause it was ‘toasting’ when I come in the business. Man like U Roy, Dennis Alcapone, they used to toast. I come with like a sing-jay. The first number one, ‘Woman then a locks and the man them a plat…rest a lickle while and make me show you me style… Woman them a locks and he man them a plat. Cha man! Cha man! – you better than that.’*

* also refers to Platt Skank

While the toasters had thrown a lot of words and syllables together to compliment the rhythm, Dillinger added narrative potential to his lyrics. Little vignettes found within his songs offered a subtle but humorous slant on the society of the day. While most of the deejays in the ‘70s took Rastafarianism very seriously, and expressed these sentiments in their songs, Dillinger took a humorous, although always sympathetic, perspective. In ‘Plantation Heights’ (1976 Channel One), for example, he pokes fun at the Rasta’s ban on adding salt to their cooking.

[audio:http://www.dancecrasher.co.uk/features/rubadubstyle/1/plantationheights.mp3]
Dillinger – Plantation Heights

Natty swim ina the ital bath,
Him don’t go a sea cause the sea so salt,
Natty dread find fault,
say the sea too salt

In ‘The General’ (1976 Channel One) Dillinger draws a lyrical picture of the Rastaman who doesn’t eat meat or believe in death.

[audio:http://www.dancecrasher.co.uk/features/rubadubstyle/1/thegeneral.mp3]
Dillinger – The General

Natty Dread a the general
That’s what him don’t go a funeral
Natty dally out a mineral – fe wha’?
Fe go swim ina the river
But Natty Dread don’t shiver
Cause him don’t eat liver,
Him a go swim ina the river,
Simply because him live ya, you know…

Dillinger was a keen observer of life. One of his biggest hits, ‘CB 200’ (Well Charged 7 inch, 1978), looked at the motorcycle craze that had taken over Kingston. “It was a fashion in those times. In Jamaica, if you are going in the dance, you had a lot of bikes. Sometimes you hardly have space to stand up because of the bikes; sometimes you lean on a bike muffler and it burn you because it’s hot. They would ride their bike to the dance, the girls in their shorts was on the back of the bike.

“They start with Honda 50, then they come with the S 90, the 790 , the 175 and they come down to the CB200. There was a lot of dread in the ‘70s you used to see riding. That’s where the inspiration come. Cause you would see one dread, two dread – cause you had the ‘pilon’, the one dread is the rider and the second dread is the pilon* rider.”

* The ‘pilon’ rider sits behind the driver

Although he would shout and wail like the best, Dillinger’s tone was often much calmer than his predecessors, at time, almost conversational. In ‘Eastman Skank’ (1976 Channel One), when faced with a tense situation, he remains unruffled.

Traveling from the west to the east,
To go check Harry Geese
To have a musical feast
with my brand new release…
Here come a beast*
fe go disturb the peace,
so, me leave with me niece

* refers to the police

[audio:http://www.dancecrasher.co.uk/features/rubadubstyle/1/braceaboy.mp3]
Dillinger – Brace A Boy

Yet, for all his restraint, Dillinger recorded some of the most intense deejay records of all time. Behind his calm reserve, he held a laser-likeability to focus pure energy in single word or phrase. In ‘Braces a Boy’, over an earthshakingly heavy King Tubby mix, he slowly intones:

Braces a bwoy
I tell ya!
and a that you fe know
Look at that!

With the quiver in his voice, Dillinger’s chant, “Ethi-Ethi-opia, Addids-Addis-Ababa,” brings the righteous wrath of Jah down on all evil doers.

The Chanting Style

Deejay Trinity recalls, “I was inspired by Big Youth. Cause in those days, Big Youth usually chant, and I love chanting, cause chanting have a message. U Roy only have a sweet tone, and him have some nursery rhymes, some nice likkle [little] lyrics, but Big Youth usually have the revolution kind of style.”

That was the style people wanted in the ‘70s as political changes moved the country closer to discord and disorder. The chanting style became the mark of the ‘70s deejay. Jah Stitch, another popular deejay from Big Youth’s area, would use a imilar technique. Stitch’s hallmark was the quivering voice, the bible verses, the rhythmic monotone delivery.

The effect of the slow, droning vocals over the dense, thickly layered rhythm tracks, was hypnotizing. Selector Jah Wise suggests, “The chanting really start in Nhyabingi, Rastafarian movement. Big Youth [used it] before U Roy. U Roy used to record for Treasure Isle. Nobody couldn’t do no Rasta tune there. Treasure Isle [Duke Reid] was a police. So, nobody could do no ‘Jah’ tune there. When U Roy left Treasure Isle, he start to do Rasta chant now. That’s why Coxsone get out Duke Reid*, cause everybody could smoke weed at Coxsone. Everybody smoke weed down there. Reggae music really come with weed.”

* i.e.got ahead of him, got more popular

Weed smoking and the Rastafarian consciousness were penetrating deep into the music. The romantic rock steady period was over. Artists were taking up questions of black identity and looking toward Africa for solutions. The music reflected the new, post independence, reality. Jamaica in the ‘70s hit a serious time, a time of struggle. People had seen their dreams evaporate and they were angry, frustrated and searching for solutions. All of which lead reggae to undergo seismic changes which affected the very core of the dancehall. The roots era had dawned and music was increasingly being used to impart a social, political or spiritual agenda. In Jamaica, times were getting dread.

Chapter 2: Politics in the Dance

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